By Andrea Bankier

Most people are less comfortable with virtual vs face-to face interviews, but given the current COVID reality, they’re increasingly necessary.  And let’s face it, we have all needed to become skilled at communicating via Zoom and other platforms during lock-down.

We are finding that many employers worry that they won’t get enough insight into candidates.  Companies are asking for guidance on how to equip their leaders to conduct effective virtual interviews.

Most people worry that a virtual interview limits the connection they can make with the interviewer. 

The question we ask, is are virtual interviews so different from in-person interviews? The answer to this question depends on what your in-person interview process was like. 

Any time we meet a new person, we make snap judgments. We read their body language. We make assumptions based on how they look and dress. We might make inferences based on whether they accept the offer of a cup of coffee.

All of these immediate judgments usually happen quickly and subconsciously. But they have a deep impact on our decisions. In fact, a Careerbuilder study noted that 87 percent of employers say they know whether the candidate is the right fit within the first 15 minutes. Furthermore, nearly half said they could tell within the first five minutes.

Clearly this isn’t enough time to judge a candidate based on data or their experience and capabilities. Instead, we’re taking shortcuts, and making decisions on all kinds of criteria irrelevant to being successful in a role.  And it results in us making decisions based on bias.

Virtual Interviews can introduce a whole set of new biases.  While interviewers may have fewer opportunities to observe those in-person cues they now have a glimpse into candidates’ personal lives that they never had before.

During a virtual interview, some wild conclusions could be reached through catching a glimpse of a person’s home, a dog barking or a child running in the background. They may form an opinion based on a picture or poster hanging on a wall in the background.

How do we address the slippery slope of bias that comes with virtual interviewing?  Add more structure to the interview process.

The Seven Keys to Success

  • Determine competencies and interview questions before the interview. Make sure you have a set of well-defined behavioural competencies that are important for success in the role. Provide behavioural based questions that will enable reliable assessment of candidates against the competencies. Of course, always remember to interview every candidate using the same competencies with the same set of core questions.
  • Choose a reliable technology. Test your technology and make sure you have a good connection. And make sure you have a phone number to call, should the technology fail.
  • Make a positive impression. Build rapport with the candidate and form a connection.  Every candidate needs to feel respected, and that they are being treated fairly. 
  • You could involve multiple interviewers (a panel of interviewers rather than just one or two), where each person can represent a different perspective on the candidate, which reduces bias. This can also help the candidate see a bigger picture of what your company culture is like, which is especially important in virtual interviews.
  • Focus on behaviour. Success in most jobs isn’t just about what gets done. It’s about how it gets done. Behavioural interviewing questions focus on what candidates did and how they solved problems. While it may sound simple, the reality is that past behaviour predicts future behaviour.  These are questions that start with phrases like “Tell me about a time when…”
  • Use the STAR (Situation or Task, Action and Result) method to collect information. It’s a simple and incredibly effective way to collect accurate information, and reduce bias in how you evaluate the candidate.  And it helps to identify follow-up or probing questions. 
  • Address motivational fit.  Motivational fit is about finding out how the candidate’s likes and dislikes relate to the job.. And understanding a candidate’s likes/dislikes and determining how it aligns with what the job and organization has to offer. At times we hear the term “Poor Culture fit” to describe a gut feeling that a candidate just wouldn’t “fit in” with others at the company. But managers usually don’t have objective criteria for what cultural fit means, which can introduce bias. 

Of course, what happens after the interview is also critical. Each interviewer should individually review the data and rate each competency. Then they need to get together (probably virtually!) to talk about their impressions. This step is critical to making an unbiased decision.

Virtual interviews definitely present unique challenges. But they also present tremendous opportunities.  For example, virtual interviews enable you to source candidates from anywhere, without paying for travel. That opens up the talent pool dramatically. The bigger talent pool also means you have access to more diversity in candidates, with an added bonus, it often makes it easier for candidates to make time for the interview as they don’t need to travel. And it means that even with Covid lock-downs, recruiting can still continue.

With an unprecedented amount of quality talent on the market, you just can’t afford to get virtual interviews wrong. Those that get it right and are able to conduct effective virtual interviews while ensuring a positive candidate experience will reap the benefits for years to come.

Andrea Bankier is a senior consultant for Sheffield South Island. Andrea has a 20+ year track record of success as a consultant and facilitator across an extensive range of strategic and operational Human Resources and Organisational Development including Learning and Development, Leadership and Team Development, Performance Management, Talent Management, Change and Transition Management, Workforce Planning, Career Development and Leadership Coaching.

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